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The $4 Billion Election: Spending Records Shattered as Republicans Benefit from Late Cash Surge

Center for Responsive Politics predicts midterms could cost nearly $4 billion


Whereas the romanticism of 'one person-one vote' has long captured the imagination of US citizens, it becomes increasingly difficult to hide the enormous negative impact that shadow money plays on what is surely a fragile democracy. (Credit: Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON – This year’s federal election will obliterate spending
records for a midterm contest, surpassing the previous high-water mark
set in 2006 by about $1 billion, the Center for Responsive Politics predicts less than a week before voters cast their ballots.

enough cash to run the city of Pittsburgh for two years. Buy every
resident of Topeka a nice used car. Or treat each and every American to a
Big Mac and fries.

And such record-breaking spending is largely
fueled by the confluence of two powerful political forces. First, dozens
of competitive, often contentious congressional campaigns are being
waged, providing incentive for record spending. Second, recent federal
court decisions have armed corporations, unions and ideological
organizations with the firepower to spend as much as they want, whenever
they want on political messages saying just about anything they want,
no matter how scathing or partisan.

“We knew this election could
make spending history, but the rate of growth is stunning,” said Sheila
Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics and
its website,
“This kind of money in 2010 makes the 2000 presidential election –
hardly a distant memory – look like a bargain at $3.1 billion. And tens
of millions of dollars of it is now coming from organizations who, by
law, need not disclose their donors. It’s now more difficult than ever
for voters to determine whether the outside groups flooding their
television and radio airwaves with political messages are doing so for
any reason other than promoting their own, narrow set of special

Republicans have more quickly adapted to this new
campaign finance landscape ahead of an election in which they’re angling
to recapture the U.S. House of Representatives, if not the U.S. Senate,
too. And their potential success at the polls may result in a marked
shift in federal policy, painting the U.S. Capitol a bright shade of red
after four years tinged with blue.

Identifiably conservative
organizations are spending more than $2 on advertisements and other
communications for every $1 liberal organizations do. While corporations
are behind much of this money, many of these companies have skirted
public scrutiny by laundering their cash through intermediary
organizations, which often sport nondescript names and don’t
immediately, if ever, reveal who funds them.

The three national
Democratic party committees do enjoy slight fund-raising advantages over
their Republican counterparts this election cycle. And in some of the
cycle’s most competitive races, Democrats have built notable financial
resources that remain the envy of their Republican opponents.


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nationwide, House Republican congressional candidates themselves have
so far raised and spent more money through the middle of October than
Democrats – in House races, raising $502 million to $461.5 million, and
spending $407.3 million to $397.3 million.

In Senate races,
Republicans are out-raising Democrats $400 million to $347 million,
although Democrats have spent a tiny fraction more. A key factor in
these realities: Major industries and special interest areas that had
just months ago primarily bankrolled Democrats have suddenly flocked to
the GOP – a phenomenon that the Center finds has only increased in speed
as Election Day draws closer.

Conservatively, the current
election cycle will cost $3.7 billion, the Center predicts, reaffirming
an initial cost-of-election prediction from earlier this year. The
Center now forecasts, however, that final spending numbers for the full
cycle will likely flirt with the $4 billion mark.

As of today,
the Center calculates that Republicans have raised $1.64 billion to
Democrats’ $1.59 billion. These figures include money raised by
candidates and parties, and the money reported by outside organizations.
The party split for outside money include independent expenditures on
behalf of or against Democrats or Republicans; electioneering
communications based on the general ideological leanings of the
organization; and receipts by 527 organizations that are not already
included elsewhere.

Regardless of the final figures, they’ll be
profoundly large: In 2006, the federal midterm election cost $2.85
billion, while in 2002, it cost $2.18 billion. The 1998 election cost
just $1.61 billion. Races during the 2004 presidential election cycle
are tallied at $4.14 billion – only a small fraction more than the
predicted cost of the 2010 midterm cycle. The 2008 presidential election
cycle, at nearly $5.3 billion, remains the most expensive overall.

Center’s findings are largely based on fund-raising data reported to
the Federal Election Commission into this month by all candidates for
federal office, party committees, political action committees and
federally focused 527 committees. This conservative estimate also
includes independent expenditures on advertising and get-out-the-vote
efforts by outside political action committees and other organizations
to support and oppose candidates.

Read the Center for Responsive Politics' extended report here.

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